How privileged is a geek girl, anyway?

The last time I made a post at the Border House, I got called out on my privilege in flippantly suggesting that writing your own games is way easier than it looks. That really got me thinking, and a post I found today on the Geek Feminism blog brought those thoughts back to the forefront: If you were hacking since age 8, it means you were privileged.

As I’ve likely detailed before, I have indeed benefited from the privilege of exposure to computers at a young age. My father, an engineer and longtime gadgetphile, started bringing them home when I was about three, and before too long, I was typing DOS commands and installing software just like the rest of them. When I was ten years old and suddenly found myself curious as to how video games were made, and was subsequently given a book that taught me how to program in BASIC. These things could never had happened if my family wasn’t affluent enough to afford both the equipment and the education required to use it. That, I’m quite loathe to deny.

I was also afforded the privilege of having the support of both my parents in pursuing my geeky passions. I had a strong role model in my mother, who to this day enjoys a successful career as a doctor, and was always encouraged to excel in academic subjects so I could go to university and work towards a fulfilling career of my own in turn. I was never given the message that I was somehow less capable at computers, math, or science because of my gender. [1] Sure, my parents probably didn’t expect from the start that I’d make a career out of doing what I do, but when I did eventually make my choice, it was met with nothing but encouragement. For that, I am eternally grateful, and would love nothing more than to spend the rest of my life ensuring that more young women of future generations are given that same gift.

All that said, there is one element to the development of my abilities that I believe is borne out of a limitation: my history of poor social skills, at least in comparison to most girls of my age group growing up. Would I have spent so much time alone on the computer if I were able to socialise like other girls? Would I have been less inclined to pursue my interests so intensely if I were more aware of how negatively I would be perceived by my peer group if I did so? I’m sure the fact that I wasn’t a white girl probably factored in as well — I already knew I wasn’t “normal” in my culture, so what was the point of trying? So yes, my introversion and ability to hyperfocus on subjects that interest me are definitely things I consider gifts, gifts I couldn’t have developed if I hadn’t had the class privilege that allowed me the time and resources to do so, but I still have trouble denying that they also came to me at a cost.

I suppose that when I remarked that making games isn’t really that hard, what I really ought to have said was that making games shouldn’t be so hard. I need to be helping to create a world where anyone can have access to a computer at an early age, just as I did; fortunately, we’re much closer to that point today than we were when I was growing up. I also need to be helping to create an environment where women who came to computers later in life don’t feel belittled in indie game communities for not being talented or passionate enough, where they can easily find the resources they need to learn to use this great new medium to express themselves. Will that eventually lead to a world where it becomes more socially acceptable for a young girl to spend enough time on the computer to develop the same skills I was able to? I’d like to hope so.

Footnotes:
  1. Or at least, if I was, I was too clueless to notice.
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